American Resistance To Empire

It’s not just Trump supporters–Belief In Our Political System Is A Shared Psychosis

It’s not just Trump supporters: Politics is a pile of shared psychoses


Dr. Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist affiliated with Yale University, posits a “‘shared psychosis’ among just about all of Donald Trump’s followers.”

Her claim came in the context of a discussion of Alan Dershowitz’s use of the word “perfect” to describe his sex life, mirroring Trump’s use of that word regarding a well-known phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

Dershowitz has complained to Yale about the claim. He considers it an ethical violation of psychiatrists’ duty not to diagnose conditions absent personal examinations.

This particular version of the claim has a pretty thin basis, but it’s not incorrect. The big problem with it is that it’s too narrow. Donald Trump isn’t some lone Typhoid Mary of “shared psychosis,” nor are his supporters its only victims. Politics as we know it is made up almost entirely of shared psychoses.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines “psychosis” as “conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality. … Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear). Other symptoms include incoherent or nonsense speech, and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation.”

If that doesn’t sound like the daily grind of American politics to you, you haven’t been paying attention to Trump’s Twitter timeline, the Democratic Party’s presidential primary debates, or Congress’s perpetual bickering.

The primary delusion of politics is the notion that someone out there is more qualified to run your life, or at least your neighbor’s life, than you or your neighbor. In the advanced stages of the psychosis, the victim becomes convinced that he or she IS that someone and decides to seek political office.

By any measure, the psychosis is pandemic. In the U.S., more than 45 percent — at a bare minimum, the entire adult population minus the half who don’t vote and the tiny percentage who vote Libertarian — clearly suffer from it.

To make a bad situation worse, the American political system is set up to ensure that the most delusional patients get put in charge of running the asylum.

While I’m a partisan Libertarian, I have my doubts that we can vote our way out of this epidemic by electing my fellow partisans to office and having them re-jigger the system to stop spreading the contagion and exacerbating its symptoms.

Perhaps we should consider adding clozapine to the water supply.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (

The battle of ‘resistance’ vs ‘revolution’ in the Middle East

The battle of ‘resistance’ vs ‘revolution’ in the Middle East

The clash between the ‘resistance’ and ‘revolutionary’ movements will define the Middle East in the future.

Protesters celebrate after a structure representing a fist was erected to replace a previous one that was burnt at Martyrs' Square in Beirut on November 22, 2019 [Reuters/Andres Martinez Casares]
Protesters celebrate after a structure representing a fist was erected to replace a previous one that was burnt at Martyrs’ Square in Beirut on November 22, 2019 [Reuters/Andres Martinez Casares]

The events surrounding the US assassination of Iranian Quds Force leader Major General Qassem Soleimani brought to the surface the two main ideological forces that now battle each other across the Middle East – the anti-imperial “resistance” of Iran and its Arab allies, and the freedom “revolution” of domestic protesters in the same lands.

The first was reflected in the massive funeral processions in Arab and Iranian cities for Soleimani and his colleagues that were far bigger than the usual state-organised propaganda protests. Such outpourings of grief and anger in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and pockets elsewhere signify the central political dynamic – “resistance” in their view – which drives Iran and its allies, and shapes many regional developments.

After a brief pause – from the shock of the assassinations, respect for the dead, widespread anti-American anger, fear of wider conflict, much rain, and Tehran’s admission of its error in downing the Ukrainian civilian airliner – the second key regional dynamic reared its head again: popular demonstrations for freedom and democratic pluralism resumed across the same lands (Iran, Iraq, Lebanon), where large crowds wept for Soleimani and vowed to stand up to the US and its allies.

These two forces now battle to define the identity and policies of the Middle East for decades to come. “Resistance” (moqawama) is how many Arabs and Iranians fight back against the US, Israel and their conservative Arab allies like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “Revolution” (thawra) for democratic freedoms, social justice, and pluralism that exploded in Arab countries and Iran since the 2010-11 uprisings is how determined ordinary citizens seek to remove the autocratic, incompetent or corrupt governments they blame for their deteriorating living conditions and denied rights.

The two forces had coexisted in separate spheres for years, but they now openly clash head-on in Iran, Iraq, Syria and in Lebanon, as “resistance” troops try to beat down “revolutionary” protests by force.

“Resistance”, the oldest of the two forces, since the 1980s has defined the policies of Iran and its Arab strategic partners, notably Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Ansarullah (Houthis), People’s Mobilisation Forces (PMFs) in Iraq and Syria, and other smaller groups. Nonviolent mainstream Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood also “resist” Western and Israeli political and cultural threats to Arab-Islamic societies, as do nationalist and progressive groups across the region that share this wide tent.

Since soon after the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has defined and implemented the core resistance strategy by building political and technical military capabilities among its Arab allies. This allows it to conduct operations throughout the Middle East via its Arab partners and allies, who pester, fight or deter their common foes in neighbouring lands, before the battle reaches Iran itself.

They all use Iran’s asymmetrical warfare toolkit – including missiles, cyber capabilities, attack drones and communications/surveillance systems – to confront Israel (Hamas and Hezbollah) or conservative Arabs like Saudi Arabia and the UAE (the Houthis). General Soleimani’s main mission was to develop this network of Iran’s Arab allies.

Arab critics, however, see this as Tehran’s hegemonic export of its Islamic revolution in order to weave a web of capable puppets under its control. Soleimani was able to foster so many Arab allies because many Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Yemenis and Palestinians had suffered badly from American, Israeli and conservative Arab policies of war and occupation; they were so weak and vulnerable that they willingly joined the Iranian-led, Islamist-driven movement as a self-preservation move.

The self-proclaimed “resistance axis” ethos is to defy foreign threats and refuse to bow to American and Israeli demands, even at the cost of war or debilitating sanctions. Yet, Iran’s nuclear deal with the US, UK, Germany, France, China and Russia, and Hezbollah’s indirect agreements and ceasefires with Israel show the resistance powers’ willingness to engage their foes politically, but only based on equal respect for the rights of all sides.

Historians will determine whether “resistance” has been a heroic anti-imperial success or a naive fantasy. Its advocates say it evicted Israel from South Lebanon and Gaza, achieved strategic deterrence between Hezbollah and Israel, compelled the United States and its partners to agree to the nuclear deal, allowed Iran to survive severe sanctions, saved the Assad government in Syria, beat back the ISIL threat, and now may be pushing the US out of Iraq.

Critics say these gains have come at a brutal cost to Arabs and Iranians, leaving entire countries in economic and environmental collapse, in top-heavy autocracies that constrain liberties and human rights, and brutalise those who protest peacefully. Some also fear that the resistance culture promises them only a future of perpetual warfare and economic distress.

The “revolutionary” protests underway have rocked the region in the past decade. They have been led by a young generation which has borne the brunt of economic mismanagement and the increasing authoritarianism of what they see as a corrupt political elite more concerned with self-enrichment than the wellbeing of its people. This generation has decided to rebel against regimes they view as largely illegitimate and propped up by outside forces, which due to their incompetence are unable to provide for the basic needs of their citizens.

Millions have taken to the streets, defying violent crackdowns, and demanding reforms or total changes in governing systems. Arab and Iranian protesters want to have a say in government policies to protect civil rights and pursue social justice, and to end the existing crony capitalist systems that have ravaged the middle class and spawned large-scale poverty and marginalisation.

In doing so, some of these protest movements have come head-to-head with regimes supported by the US, Israel and its conservative Arab allies and others with regimes backed by Iran and its proxies. In the first case, they have been slandered as Islamists and extremists; in the second as US and Israeli collaborators.

But many revolutionary protesters have been explicit about their opposition not only against inept and unjust rule at home, but also foreign interference from both the US and Iran. This sentiment was captured in a statement released on January 11 by protesting Iranian students at Amir Kabir (Polytechnic) University in Tehran, which said: “The only way out of our current predicament is the simultaneous rejection of both domestic despotism and imperial arrogance. We need a politics that doesn’t merely claim security, freedom, and equality for a select group or class, but that understands these rights as inalienable and for all people.”

As the full universe of “resistance” unfurls at this historic moment across the Middle East, the banner that Islamists and Arab nationalists had claimed exclusively for their battle against American, Israeli and conservative Arab threats has now been joined by a homegrown domestic “resistance” by Arab and Iranian citizens who confront their own governments and demand freedom, equality and dignity.

Arab and Iranian ruling elites and their own citizens now openly fight and resist each other, seeking to define their countries’ identities and policies. This is probably the most consequential ideological battle in the Middle East since its state system was established a century ago.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


The Israelization of US foreign policy

The Israelization of US foreign policy

The foreign policy of the US during the three years of the Donald Trump administration has undergone a slow change. It has gradually departed from international norms and carried out clear violations of the legal and ethical standards the country had previously championed. While some of these changes can be clearly identified as pro-Israel in the Middle East conflict, other policies that have no direct relation with Israel appear to have adopted both the style and the justifications that Tel Aviv has often used to defend its actions that are contrary to international laws and norms.

The Trump administration began by flouting international resolutions that specifically called on UN member states not to move their embassies to Jerusalem until a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been found. That December 2018 decision was in direct violation of the 1980 UN Security Council resolution 478, which called on all members not to recognize Israel’s unilateral  annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and asked members with missions in Jerusalem “to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city.” Washington adopted the Israeli justification by claiming that its move was merely recognition of the reality on the ground.

Furthermore, US officials, including Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, went on a public campaign calling on all UN member states to follow America’s act, in violation of the UN Security Council resolution.

America’s Israelization continued by its abrupt refusal to accept that the Palestinian territories are “occupied” — again in violation of UN resolutions and decisions by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The Trump administration followed that by giving legitimacy to illegal Israeli settlements built in occupied territories in violation of the Geneva Convention.

The process of Israelization, however, was not limited to Palestine, but also included other occupied territories. The US’ decision to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights violated, for the first time, an international post-Second World War understanding that it is unacceptable to acquire land by war. This mistaken precedent clears the way for countries throughout the world to potentially start settling their differences with their neighbors through military aggression, rather than negotiations and the rule of law.

All these actions that mimic what Israel does in the region are done without any backing from the UN.

Daoud Kuttab

Perhaps the US’ most recent violation of international humanitarian law was the decision to assassinate an Iranian official on sovereign Iraqi land, which was followed up by threats to bomb 52 historic and cultural sites in Iran — another clear war crime according to international law.
In all these acts, the Trump administration has repeated a number of often-used Israeli justifications, which range from accepting the reality on the ground to insisting an action was a pre-emptive defensive move in order to counter undeclared possible future threats.

All these actions that mimic what Israel does in the region are done without any backing from the UN or its important Security Council. As has been the case with Israel, actions without international backing turn the region into a jungle, where might is right.

The Israelis have for decades been allowed by the international community, including the US, to flout the rule of law and international norms. What is new in the past three years is that Washington has not only departed from its previous public denunciations of clear Israeli violations, but has adopted the Israeli policy itself and used it to justify its own actions in various parts of the world.

The outcome of such a change is not limited to the US or the Middle East. It provides a green light to military powers throughout the world to resolve their problems with their opponents using unrestricted military power. This was made clear by a headline in an Indian newspaper, which called for an assassination campaign against Pakistani military officers it considers supportive of terrorism using America’s (and by extension Israel’s) policy that the ends justify the means.

After the end of the Second World War, the civilized the world met and agreed on a set of understandings that were aimed at avoiding the use of military action to resolve disputes between countries and peoples. America, the home of the UN and the UN Security Council, was seen for years as the most important protector and defender of this basic international understanding. However, recent years have shown that not only is Israel being given a pass on its violations of international laws and understandings, but its actions have become a model for demagogic leaders in America, India, the Philippines and other countries, which prefer to flex their military might to solve their problems. These violations must not be allowed to become the norm around the world; otherwise we will be paving the way for another global catastrophe.

  • Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab 

7 Out of 8 Katyushka Rockets Hit Balad Joint Air Base In Iraq Hours Ago

7 bombs struck an Iraqi joint military base housing US soldiers, wounding 4

balad air base
A U.S. Air Force honor guard shooting party practices before a ceremony marking Veterans Day, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010 at Joint Base Balad, north of Baghdad, Iraq. 
Maya Alleruzzo/AP


At least four Iraqi soldiers were wounded on Sunday in a rocket attack on the Balad airbase in northern Iraq, according to Reuters.

The outlet reported that the Iraqi military said in a statement that the base, which also houses US personnel, was targeted by eight Katyusha rockets that were fired from about 50 miles (80 km) north of Baghdad. According to the report, seven of those rockets hit the base’s runway.

No casualties among the US forces were reported, according to Reuters, and the military statement did not identify who was behind the attack.

The injuries come just days after an attack on two military bases in Iraq that house US forces that were launched by Iran as tensions between the countries escalated following the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the high-profile head of Iran’s elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, in an airstrike on January 2 at Baghdad’s international airport in accordance with orders from President Donald Trump.

The strike immediately triggered security concerns for US entities in the region as Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for Americans.

The Pentagon said in a statement after it completed the fatal airstrike that it had targeted Soleimani because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” as the White House emphasized that the strike was ordered as a measure to increase security and peace.

U.S. Legal Defense of the Soleimani Strike at the United Nations–failure to communicate

On January 8, 2020, the United States reported to the United Nations Security Council that it had taken measures in the exercise of its inherent right of self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. These measures “include” the January 2 drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of a branch of Iran’s armed forces, as well as several members of Kata’ib Hezbollah, formally part of Iraq’s armed forces. The U.S. letter is legally flawed in many respects. I will try to identify its main flaws. No doubt, I will overlook some.

Before discussing what the letter says, let me mention what it does not say. The letter does not say, let alone try to establish, that an armed attack by Iran against the United States was ongoing or imminent. It does not say, let alone try to establish, that the U.S. strike was necessary or proportionate to achieve a legitimate defensive aim. The letter does not say, let alone try to establish, that the use of armed force against Iraq—on Iraq’s territory, killing members of Iraq’s armed forces, without Iraq’s consent—was consistent with Iraq’s rights under international law. These silences speak volumes.

Instead, the letter says

These actions were in response to an escalating series of armed attacks in recent months[1] by the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iran-supported militias[2] on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East region, in order to deter the Islamic Republic of Iran from conducting or supporting further attacks[3] against the United States or U.S. interests, and to degrade the Islamic Republic of Iran and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force-supported militias’ ability to conduct attacks[4].

Almost every assertion in this paragraph involves a legal or factual error.

[1] “in response to an escalating series of armed attacks over recent months”

International law prohibits the use of armed force except to repel an ongoing armed attack or (perhaps) to halt an imminent armed attack. The phrase “escalating series of armed attacks” essentially concedes that the U.S. was not facing one ongoing armed attack that was, if you will, arriving in waves. Since the incidents occurred “over recent months,” including two incidents last summer, perhaps this concession was unavoidable. In any event, the letter treats each incident as a discrete armed attack. The phrase “in response to” suggests what the letter’s factual narrative confirms: that the last incident in this series was over when the U.S. decided to strike. Since the letter does not allege that further attacks were imminent, this dooms the United States’ legal case.

Put another way, an ongoing series of attacks is not an ongoing attack or an imminent attack. If one attack is clearly over, then the legal “clock” resets. If no further attack is imminent, then there is nothing to lawfully defend against. This is the time for negotiation, Security Council intervention, and military preparation. This is not the time for armed force.

Some readers may find existing law overly restrictive. If one State repeatedly attacks another, the victim State may be unsure whether or when another attack may come and unsure what measures are necessary to prevent it. Since this uncertainty is created by the unlawful actions of the aggressor State, some readers may think the legal requirements of self-defense—certainty, imminence, necessity, proportionality—should be interpreted broadly, in favor of the victim State and against the aggressor State. We need not settle this normative question here, because the U.S. strike occurred in a third State—Iraq. The letter does not allege that Iraq is responsible for any unlawful attack or other unlawful action that might forfeit or otherwise compromise its legal rights. Accordingly, only clear evidence of an ongoing or imminent armed attack by Iran could justify the use of armed force in Iraq.

In fact, none of the incidents described trigger a legal right to use armed force against Iran.

The “threat to the amphibious ship USS BOXER on July 18, 2019, while the ship was conducting a planned inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian unmanned aerial system,” was just that—a threat, not an armed attack.

The “armed attack on June 19, 2019, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile on an unmanned U.S. Navy MQ-4 surveillance aircraft on a routine surveillance mission monitoring the Strait of Hormuz in international airspace” was not an armed attack. Following the International Court of Justice, “it will be necessary to distinguish the most grave forms of the use of force (those constituting an armed attack) from other less grave forms.”

The United States has long held an opposing view: that any use of armed force constitutes an armed attack. The U.S. view is an extreme outlier and wrong. The U.N. Charter uses different terms—use of force, armed attack—and these terms carry different meanings. If shooting at a drone (that Iran alleges unlawfully crossed into its territory) triggered the United States’ right of self-defense, then such a minor incident might justify deadly and destructive strikes to defend the drone. Indeed, under the prevailing view of proportionate self-defense, the United States would be permitted to use as much force as necessary to defend the drone, even if that means lethal strikes against command and control centers deep inside Iran. This result, like the U.S. view that entails it, is absurd.

The letter alleges that Iran is responsible for “attacks on commercial vessels off the port of Fujairah and in the Gulf of Oman that threaten freedom of navigation and the security of international commerce, and missile and unmanned aircraft attacks on the territory of Saudi Arabia.” Even assuming Iranian responsibility, none of the countries concerned have requested the United States to use force on their behalf. These incidents contribute nothing to a U.S. claim of self-defense, either individual or collective. The letter claims that these actions “endangered international peace and security.” Maintaining international peace and security is the responsibility of the Security Council, not a legal basis for unilateral armed force.

The letter states that “Qods Force-backed militia groups in Iraq, including Kata’ib Hizballah, have conducted a series of indirect fire attacks targeting bases where U.S. forces in Iraq are located. On December 27, 2019, one such attack resulted in the death of a U.S. Government contractor and injury to four U.S. servicemembers . . . .” These incidents would likely justify “on-the-spot reactions” by U.S. forces under fire. These incidents would not justify the use of force against Iran, for reasons described below.

Finally, the letter states that “Kata’ib Hizballah and other Qods Force-backed militias then participated in an attack on the United States Embassy in Baghdad on December 31, 2019, which resulted in significant damage to Embassy property.” This incident also lacked the military character and gravity to constitute an armed attack. But let us turn to a deeper and broader problem.

[2] “by the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iran-supported militias”

Only armed attacks attributable to Iran could trigger the U.S. right of self-defense against Iran. Attacks by militias are not attributable to Iran based solely on Iran’s “support” for them. Attacks by militias are attributable to Iran only if those attacks are conducted on Iran’s instructions or under Iran’s direction or effective control. (For more on this, see Oona Hathaway, “Bolton’s Stated Predicate for War With Iran Doesn’t Work.”) Again, following the International Court of Justice, “assistance to rebels in the form of the provision of weapons or logistical or other support” does not constitute an armed attack. The letter does not allege that Iran instructed, directed, or controlled any of the militia actions described, let alone prove it.

The letter identifies one armed attack by Iran, namely Iran’s January 7 reprisal, taken in response to the U.S. strike on January 2. No more needs to be said about that.

[3] “in order to deter the Islamic Republic of Iran from conducting or supporting further attacks”

Armed reprisals are prohibited under international law (see herehere, and here). This passage essentially admits that the U.S. strike was a reprisal, responding to past incidents in order to deter (possible though not imminent) future incidents. This is not a legal defense. This is a confession.

[4] “to degrade [Iran and Iran-supported] militias’ ability to conduct attacks”

To repeat, the U.S. may use armed force against Iran only to halt or repel armed attacks attributable to Iran. It follows that the U.S. may not use armed force against Iran to degrade the abilities of militias that Iran merely supports but whose operations Iran does not instruct, direct, or control. Since the letter does not allege that armed attacks by Iran were imminent, there was no legal basis for using armed force to degrade Iran’s ability to conduct attacks itself.


The U.S. letter fails on every level. It fails to attribute past armed attacks to Iran, fails to allege imminent future armed attacks by Iran, and essentially admits that the U.S. strike was an unlawful reprisal rather than lawful self-defense. (The same kind of unlawful reprisal that Iran undertook with its subsequent ballistic missile attack.)

On the same day that the United States reported that it exercised its right of self-defense against Iran, Iran reported that it exercised its right of self-defense against the United States. Iran’s letter was also legally flawed in many respects (see here). Among other things, Iran’s letter closed by claiming to respect “the independence, unity, sovereignty, and political independence” of Iraq, on whose territory Iran used armed force without consent. Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. But at least Iran paid that small price. The U.S. didn’t even bother.

Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images


The Militarization of Everything

The Militarization of Everything

The expanding cultural authority of the armed forces is a problem for U.S. democracy, writes William J. Astore.

By William J. Astore

When Americans think of militarism, they may imagine jackbooted soldiers goose-stepping through the streets as flag-waving crowds exult; or, like our president, they may think of enormous parades featuring troops and missiles and tanks, with warplanes soaring overhead. Or nationalist dictators wearing military uniforms encrusted with medals, ribbons, and badges like so many barnacles on a sinking ship of state. (Was President Donald Trump only joking recently when he said he’d like to award himself a Medal of Honor?) And what they may also think is: that’s not us. That’s not America. After all, Lady Liberty used to welcome newcomers with a torch, not an AR-15. We don’t wall ourselves in while bombing others in distant parts of the world, right?

But militarism is more than thuggish dictators, predatory weaponry, and steely-eyed troops. There are softer forms of it that are no less significant than the “hard” ones. In fact, in a self-avowed democracy like the United States, such softer forms are often more effective because they seem so much less insidious, so much less dangerous. Even in the heartland of Trump’s famed base, most Americans continue to reject nakedly bellicose displays like phalanxes of tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue.

But who can object to celebrating “hometown heroes” in uniform, as happens regularly at sports events of every sort in 21st-century America? Or polite and smiling military recruiters in schools? Or gung-ho war movies like the latest version of “Midway,” timed for Veterans Day weekend 2019 and marking America’s 1942 naval victory over Japan, when we were not only the good guys but the underdogs?

Recruiter with an attendee of the Military Exploration Workshop at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, March 21, 2017. (DoD/Benjamin Pryer)

What do I mean by softer forms of militarism? I’m a football fan, so one recent Sunday afternoon found me watching an NFL game on CBS. People deplore violence in such games, and rightly so, given the number of injuries among the players, notably concussions that debilitate lives. But what about violent commercials during the game? In that one afternoon, I noted repetitive commercials for “SEAL Team,” “SWAT,” and “FBI,” all CBS shows from this quietly militarized American moment of ours. In other words, I was exposed to lots of guns, explosions, fisticuffs, and the like, but more than anything I was given glimpses of hard men (and a woman or two) in uniform who have the very answers we need and, like the Pentagon-supplied police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, are armed to the teeth. (“Models with guns,” my wife calls them.)

Got a situation in Nowhere-stan? Send in the Navy SEALs. Got a murderer on the loose? Send in the SWAT team. With their superior weaponry and can-do spirit, Special Forces of every sort are sure to win the day (except, of course, when they don’t, as in America’s current series of never-ending wars in distant lands).

And it hardly ends with those three shows. Consider, for example, this century’s update of “Magnum P.I.,” a CBS show featuring a kickass private investigator. In the original “Magnum P.I.” that I watched as a teenager, Tom Selleck played the character with an easy charm. Magnum’s military background in Vietnam was acknowledged but not hyped. Unsurprisingly, today’s Magnum is proudly billed as an ex-Navy SEAL.

Cop and military shows are nothing new on American TV, but never have I seen so many of them, new and old, and so well-armed. On CBS alone you can add to the mix “Hawaii Five-O” (yet more models with guns updated and up-armed from my youthful years), the three “NCIS” (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) shows, and “Blue Bloods” (ironically starring a more grizzled and less charming Tom Selleck) — and who knows what I haven’t noticed? While today’s cop/military shows feature far more diversity with respect to gender, ethnicity, and race compared to hoary classics like “Dragnet,” they also feature far more gunplay and other forms of bloody violence.

Look, as a veteran, I have nothing against realistic shows on the military. Coming from a family of first responders — I count four firefighters and two police officers in my immediate family — I loved shows like “Adam-12” and “Emergency!” in my youth. What I’m against is the strange militarization of everything, including, for instance, the idea, distinctly of our moment, that first responders need their very own version of the American flag to mark their service. Perhaps you’ve seen those thin blue line flags, sometimes augmented with a red line for firefighters. As a military veteran, my gut tells me that there should only be one American flag and it should be good enough for all Americans. Think of the proliferation of flags as another soft type of up-armoring (this time of patriotism).

Speaking of which, whatever happened to “Dragnet’s” Sergeant Joe Friday, on the beat, serving his fellow citizens, and pursuing law enforcement as a calling? He didn’t need a thin blue line battle flag. And in the rare times when he wielded a gun, it was .38 Special. Today’s version of Joe looks a lot more like G.I. Joe, decked out in body armor and carrying an assault rifle as he exits a tank-like vehicle, maybe even a surplus MRAP from America’s failed imperial wars.

U.S. Marines assist in the filming “SEAL Team” on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Jan. 14, 2019. Camp Pendleton has been used as a filming site by a number of shows and movies in order to replicate the realism of the  military services. (U.S. Marine Corps/Joseph Prado)

Militarism in the USA

Besides TV shows, movies, and commercials, there are many signs of the increasing embrace of militarized values and attitudes in this country. The result: the acceptance of a military in places where it shouldn’t be, one that’s over-celebrated, over-hyped, and given far too much money and cultural authority, while becoming virtually immune to serious criticism.

Let me offer just nine signs of this that would have been so much less conceivable when I was a young boy watching reruns of “Dragnet”:

  1. Roughly two-thirds of the federal government’s discretionary budget for 2020 will, unbelievably enough, be devoted to the Pentagon and related military functions, with each year’s “defense” budget coming ever closer to a trillion dollars. Such colossal sums are rarely debated in Congress; indeed, they enjoy wide bipartisan support.
  2. The U.S. military remains the most trusted institution in our society, so say 74 percent of Americans surveyed in a Gallup poll. No other institution even comes close, certainly not the presidency (37 percent) or Congress (which recently rose to a monumental 25 percent on an impeachment high). Yet that same military has produced disasters or quagmires in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and elsewhere. Various “surges” have repeatedly failed. The Pentagon itself can’t even pass an audit. Why so much trust?
  3. A state of permanent war is considered America’s new normal. Wars are now automatically treated as multi-generational with little concern for how permawar might degrade our democracy. Anti-war protesters are rare enough to be lone voices crying in the wilderness.
  4. America’s generals continue to be treated, without the slightest irony, as “the adults in the room.” Sages like former Secretary of Defense James Mattis (cited glowingly in the recent debate among 12 Democratic presidential hopefuls) will save America from unskilled and tempestuous politicians like one Donald J. Trump. In the 2016 presidential race, it seemed that neither candidate could run without being endorsed by a screaming general (Michael Flynn for Trump; John Allen for Clinton).
  5. General James Mattis on MSNBC. (Screen shot)

    The media routinely embraces retired U.S. military officers and uses them as talking heads to explain and promote military action to the American people. Simultaneously, when the military goes to war, civilian journalists are “embedded” within those forces and so are dependent on them in every way. The result tends to be a cheerleading media that supports the military in the name of patriotism — as well as higher ratings and corporate profits.

  6. America’s foreign aid is increasingly military aid. Consider, for instance, the current controversy over the aid to Ukraine that Trump blocked before his infamous phone call, which was, of course, partially about weaponry. This should serve to remind us that the United States has become the world’s foremost merchant of death, selling far more weapons globally than any other country. Again, there is no real debate here about the morality of profiting from such massive sales, whether abroad ($55.4 billion in arms sales for this fiscal year alone, says the Defense Security Cooperation Agency) or at home (a staggering 150 million new guns produced in the USA since 1986, the vast majority remaining in American hands).
  7. In that context, consider the militarization of the weaponry in those very hands, from .50 caliber sniper rifles to various military-style assault rifles. Roughly 15 million AR-15s are currently owned by ordinary Americans. We’re talking about a gun designed for battlefield-style rapid shooting and maximum damage against humans. In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, the hunters in my family had bolt-action rifles for deer hunting, shotguns for birds, and pistols for home defense and plinking. No one had a military-style assault rifle because no one needed one or even wanted one. Now, worried suburbanites buy them, thinking they’re getting their “man card” back by toting such a weapon of mass destruction.
  8. Paradoxically, even as Americans slaughter each other and themselves in large numbers via mass shootings and suicides (nearly 40,000 gun deaths in 2017 alone), they largely ignore Washington’s overseas wars and the continued bombing of numerous countries. But ignorance is not bliss. By tacitly giving the military a blank check, issued in the name of securing the homeland, Americans embrace that military, however loosely, and its misuse of violence across significant parts of the planet. Should it be any surprise that a country that kills so wantonly overseas over such a prolonged period would also experience mass shootings and other forms of violence at home?
  9. Even as Americans “support our troops” and celebrate them as “heroes,” the military itself has taken on a new “warrior ethos” that would once — in the age of a draft army — have been contrary to this country’s citizen-soldier tradition, especially as articulated and exhibited by the “greatest generation” during World War II.
Die-in demonstration in February 2018 organized by Teens For Gun Reform in wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (Lorie Shaull via Flickr)

Die-in demonstration in February 2018 organized by Teens For Gun Reform in wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (Lorie Shaull via Flickr)

What these nine items add up to is a paradigm shift as well as a change in the zeitgeist. The U.S. military is no longer a tool that a democracy funds and uses reluctantly.  It’s become an alleged force for good, a virtuous entity, a band of brothers (and sisters), America’s foremost missionaries overseas and most lovable and admired heroes at home. This embrace of the military is precisely what I would call soft militarism. Jackbooted troops may not be marching in our streets, but they increasingly seem to be marching unopposed through — and occupying — our minds.

The Decay of Democracy

As Americans embrace the military, less violent policy options are downplayed or disregarded. Consider the State Department, America’s diplomatic corps, now a tiny, increasingly defunded branch of the Pentagon led by Mike Pompeo (celebrated by Trump as a tremendous leader because he did well at West Point). Consider Trump as well, who’s been labeled an isolationist, and his stunning inability to truly withdraw troops or end wars. In Syria, U.S. troops were recently redeployed, not withdrawn, not from the region anyway, even as more troops are being sent to Saudi Arabia. In Afghanistan, Trump sent a few thousand more troops in 2017, his own modest version of a mini-surge and they’re still there, even as peace negotiations with the Taliban have been abandoned. That decision, in turn, led to a new surge (a “near record high”) in U.S. bombing in that country in September, naturally in the name of advancing peace. The result: yet higher levels of civilian deaths.

How did the U.S. increasingly come to reject diplomacy and democracy for militarism and proto-autocracy? Partly, I think, because of the absence of a military draft. Precisely because military service is voluntary, it can be valorized. It can be elevated as a calling that’s uniquely heroic and sacrificial. Even though most troops are drawn from the working class and volunteer for diverse reasons, their motivations and their imperfections can be ignored as politicians praise them to the rooftops. Related to this is the Rambo-like cult of the warrior and warrior ethos, now celebrated as something desirable in America. Such an ethos fits seamlessly with America’s generational wars. Unlike conflicted draftees, warriors exist solely to wage war. They are less likely to have the questioning attitude of the citizen-soldier.

Don’t get me wrong: reviving the draft isn’t the solution; reviving democracy is. We need the active involvement of informed citizens, especially resistance to endless wars and budget-busting spending on American weapons of mass destruction. The true cost of our previously soft (now possibly hardening) militarism isn’t seen only in this country’s quickening march toward a militarized authoritarianism. It can also be measured in the dead and wounded from our wars, including the dead, wounded, and displaced in distant lands. It can be seen as well in the rise of increasingly well-armed, self-avowed nationalists domestically who promise solutions via walls and weapons and “good guys” with guns. (“Shoot them in the legs,” Trump is alleged to have said about immigrants crossing America’s southern border illegally.)

Democracy shouldn’t be about celebrating overlords in uniform. A now-widely accepted belief is that America is more divided, more partisan than ever, approaching perhaps a new civil war, as echoed in the rhetoric of our current president. Small wonder that inflammatory rhetoric is thriving and the list of this country’s enemies lengthening when Americans themselves have so softly yet fervently embraced militarism.

With apologies to the great Roberta Flack, America is killing itself softly with war songs.

A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, William J. Astore is a TomDispatch regular. His personal blog is Bracing Views.”

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Brit Press Reports Iraqi PM Claim That Trump Set-Up Soleimani For the Kill

The reason Qassem Soleimani was in Baghdad shows how complex the Iran crisis is

The commander is said to have been in Iraq to discuss moves to ease tensions between Tehran and Saudi Arabia – something that will have been of interest to Washington

As part of the incendiary and escalating crisis surrounding the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, there has come an explanation of why the Iranian commander was actually in Baghdad when he was targeted by a US missile strike.

Iraq’s prime minister revealed that he was due to be meeting the Iranian commander to discuss moves being made to ease the confrontation between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia – the crux of so much of strife in the Middle East and beyond.

Adil Abdul-Mahdi was quite clear: “I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran.”

The prime minister also disclosed that Donald Trump had called him to ask him to mediate following the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad. According to Iraqi officials contact was made with a number of militias as well as figures in Tehran. The siege of the embassy was lifted and the US president personally thanked Abdul-Mahdi for his help.

There was nothing to suggest to the Iraqis that it was unsafe for Soleimani to travel to Baghdad – quite the contrary. This suggests that Trump helped lure the Iranian commander to a place where he could be killed. It is possible that the president was unaware of the crucial role that Soleimani was playing in the attempted rapprochement with the Saudis. Or that he knew but did not care.

One may even say that it is not in the interest of a president who puts so much emphasis on American arms exports, and whose first official trip after coming to office was a weapons-selling trip to Saudi Arabia – during which he railed against Iran – to have peace break out between the Iranians and the kingdom. But that would be far too cynical a thought.

Abdul-Mahdi spoke of his disappointment that while Trump was expressing his gratitude over the mediation, he was also simultaneously planning an attack on Soleimani. That attack took place not long after the telephone call from the president.

There is also the possibility that the US military planners knew nothing about the conversations between Trump and Abdul-Mahdi, and took out Soleimani when the opportunity presented itself.

There may be credence to this, if one follows the narrative which is emerging from defence and intelligence officials in Washington: that the assassination option presented to Trump was bound to be refused, as it had been by his predecessors in the White House. And that there was a desperate scramble to track down Soleimani when, much to their shock, Trump ordered the hit.

The existence of the talks between the Saudi and the Iranians and, more importantly, the threat of impending violence, has meant reaction in Riyadh at the killing has been markedly muted.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, not a stranger to sabre rattling, has sent his younger brother, deputy defence minister Khalid bin Salman, to Washington to urge restraint.

The very real risk of the region becoming an arena for conflict has led to rare cooperation in the stand-off between the Saudi-led Gulf block and Qatar, whose foreign minister was dispatched to Tehran with a similar appeal for calm.

In Tehran, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to discuss “measures to maintain the security and stability of the region,” the state-run Qatar News Agency reported. While in the UAE the foreign minister, Anwar Gargash, called for “rational engagement”, tweeting: “wisdom and balance must prevail.”

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei weeps at Soleimani prayers

As well as being in danger of getting caught in the crossfire of a war between the US and Iran, the Arab states in the region are vulnerable to Tehran’s allied militias – in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. There is concern whether the US, after unleashing a wave of missiles, would do anything when retribution is taken on its partner countries.

The Saudis learned only too clearly last summer that one cannot always depend on American commitment, when drone and missile attacks on oil-processing facilities in the kingdom halved oil production. Trump directly blamed Iran for the attacks but there was no American military response, just as there has not been to the many attacks on the kingdom from the Houthis in Yemen.

In the light of all this Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political sociologist, pointed out: “Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf countries are just quiet. They don’t want to antagonise the Iranians, because the situation in the region is so delicate, so divided, so sensitive, that you don’t want to stir it up further.”

Robert Emerson, a British security analyst, said that it was clear why caution was prevailing. “You don’t know whether Trump will just light the blue touchpaper and then just disappear,” he said. “The Arab states are right to be wary. The talk about Iran and Saudi negotiations is intriguing, further details should be emerging.’’

The Trump administration continues to insist that Soleimani was killed because he was about to launch an imminent terror campaign, without providing any evidence for the assertion. There is increasing scepticism about the claim and the questions are not going to go away. There are too many memories of Saddam Hussein and his non-existent WMD arsenal. The repercussions from the assassination in Baghdad will continue for a very long time.